drove down to the Blew Eagle cafe, knowing it was risky,
wanting it to be. Traffic howled on the bridge overhead. There
were freighter horns and train whistles, boxcars in abandoned
yards, and transient camps tucked up under the viaducts all
around. Rain was falling lightly, just a faint drift, cool,
soft gray. I parked in the dirt lot among the pick-up trucks
and Peterbilts, got out and walked over to the front of the
cafe and pushed through the doors with their port-hole
Inside, nothing had changed. Nets hung along the walls and
ceiling with green glass Chinese fishing floats. Deep, dark
grotto booths were along one wall with red glass candle
holders fluttering on the tables. The long mahogany bar glowed
amber under recessed lights, and behind it gleamed a row of
bottles and the evermirror casting back its ancient
reflections of face upon face. And it seemed literally as
though here no time had passed. Jimmy was still bartending,
the jukebox was still a sad muted and muffled speaker
background singer of time machine music, Patty Page, Merle
Haggard, blues and soulful drinker's tunes I'd heard many
times as though they were drifting down a long padded tunnel
from the mouths of the ghost singers themselves. The eternal
crucifixion on bar stools.
I took my place. It happened to be open, as though an
invisible hand had saved it for me all these years. But at
first nobody noticed me, as though I wasn't even there. I
looked around for familiar faces. Saw one. Eddie Ferris.
Little con-man, thief. Nobody trusted him, but you could count
on him to be dishonest, a strangely comforting thought. Always
talking fast about some deal a guy's got who owns a florist
shop as a front for a numbers drop and everything concluded
with "gimme a little cash," which everybody knew was
just charity to poor Eddie. That's what people started calling
him. Poor Eddie. He'd sell you out for a dime. And he always
smelled, always needed a shave. I once found him sleeping in
my car. He was always just this side of being homeless.
Sometimes he probably was, drifting in and out of lives, but
as far as I knew, for all his petty crimes, he had somehow
kept himself out of prison.
I saw Craig. He was a gun-seller. I had known him since grade
school. I went to his twelfth birthday party. We were in the
same class at school, and one time when we went on a field
trip to the museum of History and Industry, he ran straight to
a display case they had full of old rifles and Lugers and
colts, shouting, "Outta my way - guns!" He loved guns,
always had them on him, could get you any kind you wanted. He
was a gun historian, knowing everything about designs and
designers, the uses, who had used them, who was killed by
them, which were preferred in war and which were preferred by
gangsters. Craig the gunman. Yet when I saw him, he was still
a big kid who liked to play with guns. He never told me, but I
heard from others that he had killed a man.
Some other people I did not know were in the back playing
pool. Every once in a while I heard the crack of a shot. And
when at last Jimmy caught sight of me with his peripheral
sensor, sliding down, his face lit into a devil's grin and he
said, "Tom, you wily ghost, where the hell did you come
from? What'd you do, break out? Hey! Slap 'er here," and
he threw out his hand and we shook. Jimmy was a broad-chested,
thick-armed man in his forties, maybe early fifties, with hair
still pitch black. He was handsome with eagle features and
sharp, watchful eyes.
"I'm a free man," I said. "And clear."
"Well just look at you. Hey, I think I saw Thane-"
"Ah let it wait," I said. "I'll see those guys
soon enough. Let me sit up here a moment and soak it in."
"Sure. Of course. I gotcha. Say, what happened to your
"Ah. A little on the job injury."
"Well I've got the antidotes, here. Hey, what can I get
you? Hey!" He snapped his fingers. "I know, I
know." He spun around and swept up a bottle and poured me
a shot of whiskey and then a tall pint of beer. "And
you're not paying for anything, either, you hear me?"
"Ah, thanks buddy."
"Really," he said, his hands playing across the bar
like it was a piano, flicking match books into ash trays,
flipping stir sticks into his teeth, "You look great. You
look the same, man. Time hasn't touched you."
"Naw, man. It's good to see you. Man! I missed you.
You're the only person I could ever really talk to." He
sneered. "Most of these guys are just a bunch of fuckin'
bozos. You're real. Man, and when I found out you were going
in. Fuck, man. I was really depressed."
He was conning me, so called, and I knew it and he knew I
knew, which was always the basis of our friendship, if you
could call it that, but I didn't care and we got along fine. I
took a drink of the whiskey, sipped the beer. "All
right," I said. "This is the first real drink I've
had..." I didn't want to count. "And you. You look
hyper as ever."
He did an exaggerated Judo move with is arms. "I'm the
lord of Hades, man. What can I say? I've got to keep them
"You still rock climbing?"
"Oh yeah. When I can."
I shook my head. "I still think that's amazing. Those
pitch climbs you used to tell me about."
"Yeah. I don't do those that much any more. I had a
little...incident." He held up his hand to brake.
"Nothing traumatic. I was leading a little group, you
know, the wise elder, and there's this pretty little girl just
wide eyes with fear and, well, maybe a little lust? and I'm
saying, 'why, here now, you need to use a fist jam, you know,
where you just jam your whole fist back into the crack' as I'm
attempting this problem, trying to insert this cam into a
crack, and the next thing I know, whoof, I'm dangling three
feet below them."
"Naw. It was no big deal. Embarrassing, though. And I
still climb. I love it! Rock is pure, you know, and when you
get up into it, it's pure wind, too. Pure. Real. You've got a
hold of something real, you know, like your life! It's flying.
The closest thing to real freedom." He looked at me
askance as though he might have said something that would
bother me. I didn't mind. Then he grinned and said in mock
Irish, "I kicked me heals in heaven."
That's when Thane showed up, sliding up to my side, leering,
his eyes two deep red ember jewels glittering.
"Tom," he said, smiling and moving from side to
side. He shook his head to clear his vision. "Hey. Is it
really you? An apparition? Are you real? How are you?"
"I'm good," I said.
"I bet you are, my man."
"Now, Thane Volpone, don't you start messing with
him," said Jimmy.
I laughed. Thane was probably the most dangerous person there,
but he was careful, intelligent. He was playing it dumb, like
he was some buffoon, but he was deep down clear minded and
calculating all the time.
"And you're out," he said like a baseball umpire.
"Well, welcome back to Tophet, my thanage. Hey." He
looked around like he was searching for spies then turned back
drunkenly. He whispered like he was telling me a secret.
"You're out. You're out. Out? You looking for work? A
come back in?"
"Nope. Got work."
"Really?" He sat down next to me, nodding to Jimmy
who evaporated from our proximity.
"Not that kind of work," I said.
He batted his eyes in a mawkish way and said in a funny
falsetto voice, "What kinda work you doin'?"
I drank, smiled, said, "Workin' work. Blue color
"Workin down there, huh?" He narrowed his gaze.
"Well, it's probably not so bad, huh?" Suddenly, he
didn't seem drunk at all. "What, you probably got those
family men there, high school drop-outs doin' forty to life,
right? No, I'm just kidding with you. I've done labor jobs
before." He was falsely sympathetic. "Sure. It's
good for the soul, and all that. You know. Say, though. If you
start getting bored, man, well-"
"I bet you've got a million plans."
He grinned. "Well, you know I'm always thinking."
Then Chuckie appeared and he was lit up, swaying with a grin
he couldn't quit. He was talking but barely moving his mouth,
just perpetually stone faced, saying, "Man oh man oh man
it's good to see you." Crazy Chuckie, and he reached out
and gave me a light, insect embrace and just sort of drifted
back and looked at me and said, "Man oh man oh man, you
look good, you do, welcome home," and he started to reach
out to me again, but Thane slid off of his stool and guided
Chuckie into it and stood there with one arm around Chuckie's
shoulder holding him up.
"All your friends are here," said Thane as he swept
his arm back to display the fat pool players with their John
Deere hats, the old men with toothless grins and red rheumy
eyes, the crones hunched down in their booths. And he had the
most ironic smile, I could not help but laugh.
"Yes they are."
"Hey man, I gotta go," said Thane suddenly.
"But I'm glad I caught you 'cause I'm having a little
party tomorrow night and I want you to come. I think there's
someone there you'll want to meet."
"Intrigued," I said. "Where?"
"Here," he said, and he took out a business card and
flipped it over and wrote the address.
"Business card?" I said.
He smiled and handed it to me. I read the address, turned the
card over and read the print:
laughed. "This is good," I said.
"See you tomorrow, buddy. Good to have you back among the
dead." He glanced around at the patrons once more,
turned, and disappeared through the double doors.
"Man oh man oh man," said Chuckie, and I turned
around and he gripped me by the shoulder with his claw fingers
and said, "Man, I swear that guy is scary."
"Thane?" I pulled back and drew his hand away.
"Thane's all right. I've known him since high school. He
just likes to play the dark persona."
"No. You know, people say, ah Chuckie, he's crazy, he's
just a drunk crazy, say crazy stuff like oh I see radio waves
man see 'em in the air swirlin' and spinnin' and rollin' and
sendin' little streamers down to antennas on cars and houses
and heads a whole sea of sound, but you believe me because
what I tell you is true, that guy is evil."
a little drunk by the time I got out of there trying to unlock
my car door and I got in and shut the door and started the
engine and pulled back and stopped and looked and then pulled
back and rolled into the street and shifted up and lurched
forward and headed through the dark under the gray stanchions
and walls and street lights floating overhead across the
windshield and the river on my right glittering and reflecting
all the industry lights and the hills in perfect blurred forms
and even my car there yes and I could even see myself in the
river whoa stay on the road buddy yeah and I'm that place wow
uphill and I'm that guy lurching up the hill and I'm those elm
trees arching over and tunneling and coming out now we're
getting some height and I see the city rise with me there
across the river a whole constellation of lights rising in
spires like flames and spotlights swirling geometric webs over
some car lot or electronics store or theater and I think
Chuckie's not so crazy maybe hell who knows maybe they are
sound waves who knows or cares where the spotlight falls for
now driving into the dark dark dark they all go into the dark
I'm singing whooee think I'll have me a cigarette punch the
lighter got me a cigarette and I'm singing bad bad bad whiskey
made me lose my happy home pop and I got a golden ember light
my cigarette in the night and I got a smoke ahhh wind comin in
I'll just let my arm hang out and drift yeah I like that bad
bad bad whiskey on the radio shmooth music and here we go
along the dark cemetery darker than the darker sea and the
reservoir tower like some alien ship going to take me away to
the fifties and the homes homes lookit the homes burning with
the people inside like little gnomes yeah I'm peeking through
your curtains see if you see me I'm that home open your
curtains wide see what you can see in the night your
reflection in the night and me there that's me too and there's
my little hovel yeah lookiteer I'll just oooh glide right in
here yeah and off with the engine off with their heads and
I'll just climb on outa oh back in I fall and then I try that
again try my luck again pull myself up and outa here slam and
across the street and step by step up the stairs need paintin
but that's okay got that Etruscan look of the South of Italy
and there's my door and that's my number here I come lock lock
lock says open and my hand fumbling damn bandage looking like
filth and I rip it off and throw it down into the street and
turn and I open in and close the door and take off the jacket
and go to the kitchen and turn on the water and drink from the
faucet go to the bathroom and go to the bathroom then go to
the couch and lie down room room room going round round round
like a helicopter blade like a whirlpool like a vortex taking
me down down down the dark ladder